The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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If you have a pet tortoise, then you likely want to do everything you can to ensure that it stays healthy. Tortoises are very interesting creatures, and you likely really enjoy your interactions with your pet.
They’ve become popular pets for many different reasons. Unlike dogs and cats, tortoises are rather calm and they don’t make a lot of noise.
You also don’t have to deal with annoyances such as pet fur getting everywhere. However, there are still certain concerns that might pop up when you’re caring for a tortoise.
For example, you might walk into the tortoise enclosure one day and see that the tortoise isn’t moving. Immediately, you’re going to worry that the tortoise might be dead.
Why would a tortoise stop moving? Is there something wrong or is this normal?
Read on to get more information about this topic. It should help you to have a better understanding of what might be happening.
The Tortoise Could Be Hibernating
Before you get too alarmed, it’s important to know that your tortoise could be in a hibernation state. Many animals will start hibernating when it starts to get cold outside.
If you see that your tortoise isn’t moving and that it’s partially buried in the soil, then it very well might be hibernating. It isn’t always easy to tell that this is the case, though.
Luckily, there are going to be ways that you can tell whether the tortoise is hibernating or not. The most practical way to tell is to go ahead and pick the tortoise up.
If you pick the tortoise up, it should be able to maintain control of its muscles. This means that its head and limbs should remain tucked into its shell without it being a problem.
When a tortoise is dead, its head and limbs will wobble a bit when you pick it up. The tortoise won’t have control over anything any longer because it has sadly passed away.
What if you don’t want to pick the tortoise up, though? Is there another way to go about telling if the tortoise is dead?
You could try gently poking or wiggling the tortoise’s legs. If the tortoise is alive, then it should resist a little bit and it’ll move away from you.
When the tortoise doesn’t respond at all to you wiggling its legs, it’s a likely sign that it passed away. Keep in mind that the tortoise doesn’t have to move away from you too much to prove that it’s alive since it just needs to respond or react in some way.
Another way to tell is to use a feather and hold it up near the tortoise’s nose. If the tortoise is alive, then you should be able to see the feather moving a bit in response to its breathing.
When the feather is completely still, it’s a sign that the tortoise has passed away. If the tortoise isn’t breathing, then it has passed on.
Technically the Tortoise Is Brumating
It’s also worth noting that tortoises technically don’t hibernate. That might seem to contradict what has been said so far, but people commonly refer to what tortoises do as hibernation because it’s easier.
What tortoises actually do is called “brumation.” Brumating is not exactly hibernating because tortoises aren’t truly asleep when they’re brumating.
It’s just a period of dormancy that acts in much the same way as hibernation. Many people don’t find it worthwhile to point out the differences between brumation and hibernation.
This has led to most tortoise owners just using the term hibernation even though it isn’t technically accurate. From this point forward, you’ll see the term hibernation being used simply because it’s easier and more common.
Can a Tortoise Die While It’s Hibernating?
If you’ve determined that your tortoise is hibernating, then you’ll likely be relieved. Your next line of thought might be whether or not the tortoise is truly going to be okay while in hibernation.
Is it possible for a tortoise to die while hibernating? Technically, it’s certainly possible that a tortoise could pass away during hibernation.
In the wild, tortoises will sometimes die while hibernating. A tortoise could have some type of illness that will cause it to die while hibernating, but it could also die because the temperature wasn’t right.
If a tortoise gets too cold during hibernation, then it could wind up dying. Sometimes getting too warm while hibernating will cause a tortoise to burn through its energy reserves too fast.
A tortoise needs to be properly prepared for hibernation or things can go wrong. If you’re going to allow your tortoise to hibernate while in captivity, then you’ll need to do things right.
Does the Tortoise Have to Hibernate?
A pet tortoise doesn’t have to hibernate, but many tortoise owners choose to have their tortoises hibernate. Some argue that it’s better to mimic the natural way that tortoises live.
In the wild, a tortoise would need to hibernate on a specific schedule. Starting in October or November, a tortoise would begin its dormant state.
This hibernation period will last until April or May. Of course, this is general information, and the actual hibernation times might differ depending on what species of tortoise you’re caring for.
It’s also true that tortoises can encounter problems when hibernating. If a tortoise isn’t in good physical condition, then allowing a pet tortoise to hibernate might be too dangerous.
There’s also a serious risk of the tortoise having the food in its stomach rot. This can make the tortoise sick.
You’re going to need to prepare the tortoise for hibernation properly if you’re going to go through with it. Otherwise, it’d be better not to let the tortoise hibernate.
Do some research on tortoise hibernation and get specific information that relates to the tortoise species that you’re caring for. This will allow you to make informed decisions to help keep your tortoise safe.
Helping a Tortoise to Hibernate Safely
It’s going to be up to you to help your pet tortoise hibernate safely, assuming that you choose to let the tortoise hibernate. You probably shouldn’t let the tortoise hibernate if it’s too young, though.
It’s also not going to be good to hibernate a tortoise that won’t be able to afford to lose 10% of its body weight. If the tortoise isn’t in the right condition, then you should wait until it’s more prepared to handle hibernation.
Also, it’s not wise to allow a tortoise to hibernate for more than 12 weeks. Keep this in mind when planning things out.
The majority of tortoises will want to start hibernating during the month of November. Starting in the late summer, you’ll want to check the condition of your tortoise to see if it’s healthy enough to hibernate.
Take your tortoise to the veterinarian or have the vet do a house call. Get the tortoise checked for any illnesses or physical problems.
Fasting a tortoise is going to help it get ready to hibernate. The goal is to clear the tortoise’s gut so that it can hibernate safely.
You don’t want your tortoise to lose too much weight, though. Generally, it’s best to fast the tortoise for somewhere between two and six weeks.
Start giving your tortoise warm baths each day to try to clear out any fecal matter that might be left in its gut. The tortoise should drink a lot so that it will pass what it needs to.
You never want to hibernate a tortoise that has a full stomach. The bacteria that builds up could cause the tortoise to become ill, and you don’t want your pet to get sick and die.
Next, you want to place the tortoise in a room that is roughly 53 degrees Fahrenheit. This keeps the tortoise just warm enough while also signaling to its body that it’s almost time to hibernate.
Allow your tortoise to hang out in an enclosure that has this temperature for three weeks. Then the tortoise should be ready to hibernate.
There are two popular ways to hibernate pet tortoises. Some people put tortoises in refrigerators during hibernation while others keep tortoises in special boxes outside.
If you go with the fridge method, then you’ll want to use a fridge that is specifically for the tortoise. Tortoises can contaminate your normal fridge with salmonella, and you’d disturb the tortoise by fluctuating the temperature if you constantly opened the fridge door.
The temperature inside of the fridge should range from 37 to 44 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t let the temperature dip lower than this or the tortoise could die.
The box method is very similar except that you’ll be using an outdoor box. You have to figure out a way to maintain the ideal temperature mentioned above while also protecting the box from potential threats.
For most pet tortoise owners, using a refrigerator will be the easiest solution. You can decide how to proceed, though.
If your tortoise isn’t moving, then there’s a chance that it might be hibernating. Technically it’s brumating, but the difference between brumation and hibernation doesn’t necessarily matter that much.
Just know that you can check to see if your tortoise is dead or hibernating. See if the tortoise is breathing or not by placing a feather near its nose.
You can choose to let your pet tortoise hibernate if you think that it’s for the best, but you need to prepare a tortoise for hibernation. Otherwise, it can be quite dangerous.
Use the information above to make good decisions for your tortoise. It should help you to keep the tortoise safe and happy.